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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    HalflingPirate

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    Default How do you hide your rails?

    Sometimes, railroading in the grand scheme of things is unavoidable... if you have a story in mind, a sequence of events in your world... you try to find a way to involve your players. Your story has a definite plot. This is the case with my games.

    But I try to involve my players without letting them see the rails, and making sure that the choices they make matter.

    In practice, this is something I struggle with.

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    Make it so that, whenever the players are required to make a choice, it still leads to the same outcome - only the details change.

    As an example: "Do we trust the Duke's map, or should we find another way?" Oops! The Duke has been betrayed by his evil advisor, and the map leads to a trap!

    If the player's trust the map, they walk into the ambush! Cue combat encounter!

    If the players don't trust the map, they make a couple of skill checks (appropriate to HOW they are finding another way) - if they succeed, they find a back way which lets them ambush their would-be ambushers. If they fail, they walk into the trap anyways - cue combat encounter!

    Now, the combat encounter can end one of three ways: (1) the PCs are successful, in which case they find the clue incriminating the evil advisor on the body of one of the ambushers, (2) the PCs surrender, in which case they are captured, and the evil advisor comes to gloat about his evil plan to them, or (3) the PCs are forced to flee, in which case they are going to return to the Duke and report about their attack, which will lead him into directing them to investigate how his trusted advisor's information could be so wrong.

    In this case, the PC's first "choice" doesn't change which encounter they have (though it might give them an advantage), and the second "choice" is basically three different ways for the PCs to learn what the main plot it for this adventure.
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  3. - Top - End - #3
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Griffon

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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    There's a few ways to do it.

    First, if you have an encounter set up to bait the plot hook, you can have it go off no matter where they go. For example, if there's supposed to be a corrupted kings guardsmen that's going around stealing from the populace, you can have the encounter happen in any town you want to which makes it immune to the whims of players. This is probably the most mundane and not jerk ways of railroading because you're forcing a plot hook to occur, not necessarily forcing the players to act on it.

    You can also do what I consider the worst and make their actions not matter. This can seem similar to the above but it is more of a major thing than the above example. This is along the lines of the party passing by a cave mouth filled with bones and blood and they simply ignore it and then 10 minutes down the road they're invited into a cabin by a kind old man and he pulls a switch dropping them into the belly of the caves and they never encounter him again. Or they get no save no warning teleported to another plane because big magic guy said so and he threatens the party if they don't recover/kill/destroy X.

    You want to do something closer to the first while avoiding the second. That being said, sometimes the party angers a BBEG or even a BBGG and they're teleported to be told they're in trouble and how to fix it. That makes sense if they like, drop an artifact tied to a god into a pit of lava or something. The god probably wouldn't be happy.

    With all that said, sometimes no matter how well you think out the Cavern of Lost Ones, the Beaches of Szanddrakar, or the Elemental Plane of Friendship, Sometimes the players would rather go to the Hedge of No Significance.

  4. - Top - End - #4
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    Beholder

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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    1. Alter Reality: No matter what ''choices'' the players make, the plot just keeps rolling onward. This often works best if you don't tell the players your doing this as they like to think they are radically changing and altering the plot with every decision they make. So no matter what path they pick through the Dark Woods, it will lead to the Dark Tower...

    2. The One: Just make something so important and intricate to the plot that the characters will have to go there sooner or later. Like when the character's catch a bad guy and he says ''I work for Dark Cloak, the lord of the Dark Tower''. And the players are all like ''We avoid the Dark Tower(and the plot)''. But then after like the 100th bad guy says ''I work for Dark Cloak'' the players might finally say ''well, ok, we go to the Dark Tower''.

    3. Small World: There are not a lot of choices. There is only one Archmage within 1,000 miles, so you can go to him or go nowhere(or, of course, end the campaign if a player demands that they travel 10,000 miles and find some other Archmage somewhere).

    4. Not So Unrelated Points: The Mayor hires the characters to ''get them pesky bandits in the Dark Wood'' and..surprise, that puts the characters in the Dark Wood right on plot. If done right, the players won't even see it coming.

    5. The Moving Plot: If the players refuse to follow the plot, just have the plot come to them. Like when the players find out that Count Evil has the Cauldron of Darkness and at midnight on the full moon he will create and army of undead to take over the kingdom.....and the players decide to ignore it and hang out at the tavern. And what happens soon enough....an undead army attacks the town.

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    IME, players are fine with rails as long as the scenery along the way is distracting.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Imp

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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    Be upfront about the rails and ask the players to stay on the rails.
    Black text is for sarcasm, also sincerity. You'll just have to read between the lines and infer from context like an animal

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    Flumph

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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    If my players ever notice the rails, I do a distracting dance. My salacious moves quickly lull them back into complacency. Then I strike.

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    best thing is dont write tight stories that need rails in the first place

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    SwashbucklerGuy

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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    Personally I choose to size up the rails so massively that players don't even notice them. The biggest problem with "railroading" is that the GM doesn't exhibit enough patience, and does something drastic because he wants the party to be in THIS situation NOW. The trick is to plan very far ahead, but at the same time in such broad strokes that the rail line can be reconstructed easily to fit whatever shenanigans (forest fires and dragon-egg-napping in my case) the PCs happen to pull. My players just opted to wander off on a completely superfluous and self-assigned sidequest, which I was totally fine with. Because on the way I got to offhandedly mention passing that one tomb over there, which was highly salient to the plot, and they then knew the way to it when it did come up.
    Last edited by Milodiah; 2014-10-30 at 02:30 AM.

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Yora's Avatar

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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mastikator View Post
    Be upfront about the rails and ask the players to stay on the rails.
    I think in practice it's even enough if the players agree to keep heading in the right direction. If the party has a goal for the adventure or campaign, the players should only do things that seem to be advancing towards that goal, not running off doing other things somewhere else. As long as the players want to continue with the adventure, there is few trouble with things going unexpected. If they do something that is completely different from what the GM planned for, it takes a bit of improvisation but the players will return back on track by themselves.
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  11. - Top - End - #11
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Cosmic Traveler's Avatar

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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    First of all, I never GM'd yet, but I plan on to getting to do that at one point. Here's a screen cap I picked up from a GM Help/tips and tricks thread on the /tg/ board on 4chan. There is a lot of wisdom in this it's mind blowing and an eye opener

    Last edited by Cosmic Traveler; 2014-10-30 at 06:37 AM.
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  12. - Top - End - #12
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    Quote Originally Posted by Talyn View Post
    Make it so that, whenever the players are required to make a choice, it still leads to the same outcome - only the details change.
    There's a name for this technique: illusionism. Where you create the illusion of there being a choice. Which can work, unless the players work out that's what you're doing, in which case they will often react badly.
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    Spamalot in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    The Node idea in the repost above is what I generally try to do with my campaigns. It does work out well when you can't predict your players.
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  14. - Top - End - #14
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    Don't.

    When I start a game, I tell the players what kind of game I am planning to run, like "This is going to be high-heroism, good-guys-saving-the-world stuff." Then I stick plot in front of them, they make choices, and I play it as it goes. I trust my players to take the more interesting routes, but what they find interesting isn't always what I expect, so I improvise and the plot changes.

    The things going on in the background that they ignore can still happen. If the kingdom is at war with a stronger nation, and the PCs have intel that could help but don't communicate it, the kingdom will fall. If cultists are trying to summon some hideous star-spawn to do their bidding and the PCs know about it but don't intervene, chances are some hideous star-spawn is going to appear at some point. The world should go on with or without the PCs.

    If I can't come up with something to improv, I tell my players up front that they've gone right out the window of anything for which I was prepared, and either take a break to figure out what to do or call it a night and come back with new plot points next time. I think I've only ever had to do this once or twice.
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  15. - Top - End - #15
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    I guess I have three main techniques:

    Build up a supply of handles, then turn them when you need to.

    Generally when I set up and run a campaign, there's a build-up phase which centers around giving the PCs various tools, information, connections, etc for them to use later when things get bad. While this is going on, its also a good opportunity to get hooks into particular PCs. At some point during one of their projects they need something from an NPC, who agrees so long as one of them will do him a favor later. At another point, there's an overpowered magic item whose user slowly becomes mind-linked to an angel. Another time, one of the PCs picks up a strange journal that fills in with text describing events around the PCs (sometimes including things they don't know yet). A PC finds a wand that 'can make any one thing happen without limit and without being genied, but then someone somewhere else in the universe gets a true wish too'.

    Then, when I need to make something happen, I can pull on those handles to nudge the PCs in that direction. The NPC comes back to call in the favor. The angel gets caught in a trap doing something unrelated, and the magic item that the PCs have been relying on starts to become corrupted, etc. When a PC uses the wand, the backlash sets up the new situation.

    Make the rail out of candy.

    PCs generally will jump at ways to become more powerful. Even if not all PCs are subject to that, there's usually one or two, and those tend to be the most pushy players. So if you make a road to obvious power, more often than not the PCs will follow it.

    Put a train on the tracks behind the players and make sure they can see it coming

    The trick here is to just make something exist in the world and get increasingly urgent until it can't be ignored. Have it just sit there for awhile, then have the players get information about how the problem is growing. Eventually if things are allowed to get bad enough, the players will have to deal with it to survive.

    Its good to have one of these sitting around in any game that's predominantly sandbox. Essentially its a way to answer the sort of decision paralysis that groups can end up with in a sandbox campaign. It's always there in the wings, and if the game loses momentum and people can't figure out what to do next you can bring it to the front and give the players something concrete to deal with to get them back on track.

  16. - Top - End - #16
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    When I play I like to lay my rails as the plots develop. So I'll have a good idea of where I want the next session or two to go, but if the players suddenly decide they want to go to Chult to shut down the slavers I make new ideas for the next session. It really helps to be able to say "okay you can do that, but I'll take care of it nex/in a different session". They are usually understanding that a good adventure takes time.

    That doesn't really address your issue of hiding the rails.

    Give lots of hints and tips toward the directiont he rails are supposed to go. If the information they need is known by the local marshal then keep bringing him up. Oh there is a hole int he back of this sturdy building. Oh the bartender mentions there was a prison break and "Mad Margret" is on the lose. Oh I don't know where those creepy people went but the Marshal talked with them.

    Let them down hat they want to do but everything(or most) they do is giving them hints towards where you want them to go. They feel like they are making progress because they "figured out" that the Marshal is the guy to talk to even though you would have been fine if he was literally the first person they talked to. Be patient with the players.

    If they are being obstinate and don't want to go along with the rails or what have you, then figure out what they do want. They want a badass longsword? Well when they look for rumors a general in the BBEG's army just so happens to have one. Theyw ant ot be mercs? Well they keep getting undercut by a group and when they go to confront them it turns out they are secretly working for the BBEG. Undercutting jobs to make sure adventurers like you don't disrupt my plans!

    This all may take more sessions than you want, and the badguys plans may have escalated by the time the PC's get there.

  17. - Top - End - #17
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Imp

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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    I think in practice it's even enough if the players agree to keep heading in the right direction. If the party has a goal for the adventure or campaign, the players should only do things that seem to be advancing towards that goal, not running off doing other things somewhere else. As long as the players want to continue with the adventure, there is few trouble with things going unexpected. If they do something that is completely different from what the GM planned for, it takes a bit of improvisation but the players will return back on track by themselves.
    Yeah but that's only if the players know that the DM has a specific narrative goal, which is not always the case. If the players don't know that there is a plot to assassinate the emperor and that they should play a vital role in that whole thing, but instead decide to go fishing for krakens believing there's a MacGuffin in the blowhole in the kraken in bottom of the sea.
    Black text is for sarcasm, also sincerity. You'll just have to read between the lines and infer from context like an animal

  18. - Top - End - #18
    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    I have dungeons/towns/encounters that can be in multiple locations. Whichever way the PCs go, I drop it there. If they go back the other way I'll figure something else up. This also makes it less frustrating when they completely miss something I had planned, I can just put it somewhere else.

  19. - Top - End - #19
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    Quote Originally Posted by gom jabbarwocky View Post
    If my players ever notice the rails, I do a distracting dance. My salacious moves quickly lull them back into complacency. Then I strike.
    Do you mind if I sig this? I really do find this hilarious.
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    Quote Originally Posted by gom jabbarwocky View Post
    If my players ever notice the rails, I do a distracting dance. My salacious moves quickly lull them back into complacency. Then I strike.
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    SiuiS's Avatar

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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    Quote Originally Posted by MonkeySage View Post
    Sometimes, railroading in the grand scheme of things is unavoidable... if you have a story in mind, a sequence of events in your world... you try to find a way to involve your players. Your story has a definite plot. This is the case with my games.

    But I try to involve my players without letting them see the rails, and making sure that the choices they make matter.

    In practice, this is something I struggle with.
    You allow the train to jump the tracks, and just present the circumstances honestly, twisted metal, bristled corpses and all.


    Specifically; railroading is not having a plot or story, it's forcing the players to play the parts in that story you want them to despite their own desires. It's an intentional pejorative. Having a story that continues with or without the PCs is not railroading. Having the bad guy's plans continue moving forward day by day is not railroading. Having the players confront a big issue and be told 'you could have stopped this' is not railroading (although it can be, if done wrong).

    It is up to the characters to keep up with the world around them. If they do not, they cannot complain that the world moved on; they should have known time doesn't stop just because you're browsing your menu screen.

  21. - Top - End - #21
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Honest Tiefling's Avatar

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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    I don't think illusionism or the magician's choice is a good idea. Eventually, they'll figure it out and get upset. Maybe I have a very bad pokerface? Honestly, I just have nodes of what villians/antagonists/events are up to, and advance that in the story, giving them the information as they would figure it out.

    Often I just ask the players what their plans are and run with that. I find it more satisfying and easier in a way, to think of what their actions will do as opposed to trying to throw out countless hooks and hope I can reel something in. I admit, I have changed stories based on player's plans. Sometimes they come up with better ideas then I do and I just sneak them in.

    I don't think having a story continue regardless of them is railroading, it is having an actual world that...Functions. Rather then simply being stuck in time when they are not around. Hrm...That sounds like an interesting plot, where for some reason only 5 or so people are not frozen in time, and exude some sort of aura that causes others around them to also not be stuck in time...

    Of course they'll just loot and set fire to everything, but I can dream.

  22. - Top - End - #22
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Roxxy's Avatar

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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    I don't think there is a right way. It all depends on the group, and what works for one won't work for another. Personally, my setting revolves around military police constables who serve as elite monster hunters. The rails here are blatant. Captain tells the PCs what the problem is, and they go take care of it, because soldiers don't just say no to a superior officer. That approach won't work for most groups.

  23. - Top - End - #23
    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    Personally, I've kept things reasonably fluid.
    I tend to plan the ending, the plot, and then build a few encounters that I know they'll have to go through to finish the campaign.
    Then, I make a few encounters/dungeons which can be slapped anywhere I want, along with a few that are themed to whatever I think they might encounter.
    I'll give them obvious leads as to what their next step should be, but it's up to them how and when to do it.

    As long as you keep the entire plot fuzzy, you can fill in the details as you go along; you're going to be forced to sometime, as a GM. Might as well use it to make a good game!

    Edit:
    Another strategy I often use, with specific encounters, is this:
    You know that one encounter your players will have to complete?
    Yeah, that one.
    You know how you're trying to find a way for them to beat it?

    Don't bother. They're not going to use your way, anyway.
    Just give them the scenario, and let them handle it. Whatever they do, roll with it.
    Last edited by Strigon; 2014-10-30 at 02:34 PM.
    That's all I can think of, at any rate.

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  24. - Top - End - #24
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Alent's Avatar

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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kiero View Post
    There's a name for this technique: illusionism. Where you create the illusion of there being a choice. Which can work, unless the players work out that's what you're doing, in which case they will often react badly.
    I thought this was called Railschroding? The railroad isn't observed until after the players make a decision?

    I'm a Simulationist who prefers sandboxes, so the way I keep them on the plot is by having the plot advance with or without them. They want to ignore the king's evil adviser? Start advancing the evil adviser's agenda until they decide he's dangerous enough to want to take him down. Even then with my players there's a 50/50 chance they'll want to help the evil adviser, which is okay, the king is now the villain and they have to watch their backs. ('cause the evil adviser wanted to get rid of him for a reason besides greed and lust for power.)

    Then when they actually want to deal with him, what little I have planned gets inserted or railschroded in no matter how they actually work on getting to him. I try to only build non-specific details for things, such as the Adviser's lieutenant's abilities, not his location, base, mooks, etc. That way I'm able to more freely have him just show up where he needs to in order to stop the adventurers. (Or help if they decide the evil adviser is the questgiver.)
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  25. - Top - End - #25
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    Flumph

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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    Quote Originally Posted by AceAwesome96 View Post
    Do you mind if I sig this? I really do find this hilarious.
    Sig away! I'm flattered, really.

    Quote Originally Posted by Norren View Post
    I thought this was called Railschroding? The railroad isn't observed until after the players make a decision?I thought this was called Railschroding? The railroad isn't observed until after the players make a decision?
    The term I've heard used to describe this is "The Quantum Ogre Problem." But I like the term "Railschroding" much more. Way catchier.

    On a more serious note, I actually find that as long as my goals as the GM and the players' goals are the same, railroading is not an issue. In fact, I find that without some direction, my players will flounder without a clear goal and the game will suffer. I tried to run a sandbox game once, but eventually the all players were begging me for some rails. It was very awkward for everyone.

  26. - Top - End - #26
    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    You don't.

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    Orc in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    Tempt them with the right rewards and/or have them fear punishment.

    Use authority figures to advise them (or order them) on the appropriate course of action.

    Think of multiple paths leading to the same "scene". This is actually how I design campaign scenarios - not a linear plot, but a sequence of loosely connected scenes/encounters with a lot of improvisation between them.

    One mechanism I use as a last resort is prophetic dreams/visions. When a player purposefully tried to see what would happen if he strongly went off the rails, I explained his character kept having nightmares about the demise of his friends and an apocalypse that befell the land.

  28. - Top - End - #28
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    MonkGuy

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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    Quote Originally Posted by Honest Tiefling View Post
    I don't think illusionism or the magician's choice is a good idea. Eventually, they'll figure it out and get upset.
    You just never let the players figure it out. It's easy enough. Only the bad players ever complain about Railroading, the good ones just play the game.

  29. - Top - End - #29
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    In my experience, the only thing that advice and orders from authority figures in games is good for is encouraging PCs to do the opposite. Maybe that's just my group though.

    It always seems to work better when you have something where you can point out 'you knew this was coming' or 'you bought into this earlier on'. E.g. you're just reminding them of something they had previously decided to do.

    If its just 'the king demands your service!' then suddenly the problem has two solutions: 'just do what the king says', or 'get rid of the tyrannical king who is drafting us'
    Last edited by NichG; 2014-10-30 at 07:57 PM.

  30. - Top - End - #30
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Honest Tiefling's Avatar

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    Default Re: How do you hide your rails?

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    In my experience, the only thing that advice and order from authority figures in games is good for is encouraging PCs to do the opposite. Maybe that's just my group though.
    No, no, this is my group as well.

    And maybe I suck at hiding the rails, but they do get suspicious when some threads die or keep leading them to something they ignored earlier. And I disagree that playing the game must involve no input from the players on where the plot goes, so no, I don't think good players just go with the game. Complaining about having no choice (i.e., bad rails) is perfectly fine in my book. Dead or comatose players go with the rails.
    Last edited by Honest Tiefling; 2014-10-30 at 08:00 PM.

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